Film maker dies

2008-03-20 00:00

British film director Anthony Minghella, who won an Oscar for The English Patient, died in a London hospital on Tuesday after a short illness. He was 54.

Minghella died from complications following surgery last week for cancer of the tonsils and neck. His agent Leslee Dart said, “The surgery had gone well and they were very optimistic, but he developed a haemorrhage last night and they were not able to stop it.”

The son of an ice-cream maker, Minghella was married to Carolyn Choa and had two grown-up children, Max and Hannah. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was a close friend of the director, said he was deeply saddened, adding that, “he was one of Britain’s greatest creative talents, one of our finest screen writers and directors, a great champion of the British film industry and an expert on literature and opera. He will be deeply missed.”

Hailed as a master film maker and admired by actors as well as fellow directors, Minghella began his cinematographic career as a television soap opera script editor in the eighties. Gradually working his way up the television hierarchy, Minghella turned his hand to writing, winning in 1984 the London Theatre Critics award for most promising playwright for A Little Like Drowning. Other awards followed and in 1991 he made his breakthrough with Truly, Madly, Deeply, a film he wrote and directed for the BBC which crossed over into cinema and won a Bafta for best screenplay.

“He was a great guy, a very, very nice man, a brilliant writer, excellent director,” film producer David

Puttnam told BBC television, adding his death was a “shattering blow”. Minghella won the Academy Award for best director in 1996 for the wartime romance The English Patient starring Ralph Fiennes. He was also nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for the thriller The Talented Mr Ripley. He wrote the screenplay for Cold Mountain.

“Anthony was a realistic romanticist,” said friend and colleague Sydney Pollack. “A kind of poet, disciplined by reality, an academic by training, a musician by nature, a compulsive reader by habit, and to most observers, a sunny soul who exuded a gentleness that should never have been mistaken for lack of tenacity and resolve.”

The English Patient, based on author Michael Ondaatje’s novel, was an unexpected global hit. In an interview with Reuters after its release, Minghella said he had struggled to raise the money to make the film, which won 12 Oscar nominations. “It was a very hard job to get someone to give us the money for this,” he said. “It was a very unpromising document: a European film about a man haunted from his war-time past, good actors but no stars and a director who had little experience.

“It was understandable that people (in Hollywood) had no faith in the film. But they were all completely wrong.”

Born to Italian parents and brought up on the Isle of Wight, he studied drama at the University of Hull in northeast England. In 2003, he was appointed the head of the British Film Institute, the body created to make film more accessible to the public. Two years later, he staged his first opera in London.

The director and writer had been filming an adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s novel, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It is due to be shown on the BBC on Easter Sunday and on the HBO network in the United States. — Reuters.

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